Breaking newsBlackberry service disruption spreads across North America

Published 12 October 2011

Research in Motion announced earlier today that the 3-day disruption of the company’s e-mail services has now spread across North America; it is the worst such disruption of service in two years; analysts say it is a major blow to the already-struggling company; not only individuals, but also private companies and government agencies may now reconsider their reliance on Blackberrys as their preferred mode of communication

You may not be able to read this edition of the newsletter on your Blackberry.

Research in Motion announced earlier today that the 3-day disruption of the company’s e-mail services has now spread across North America. It is the worst such disruption of service in two years.

Analysts who spoke with Reuters say the this latest episode could not but cause more trouble for the company, which is already struggling to keep pace with the iPhone and Android-based smarphones.

It’s a blow upon a bruise. It comes at a bad time,” Richard Windsor, global technology specialist at Nomura, told Reuters. “One possibility could be that it encourages client companies to look more at other options such as allowing users to connect their own devices to the corporate server and save themselves the cost of buying everyone a BlackBerry.”

Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi agreed, telling USA Today that the duration of the latest outage could force large businesses to rethink their use of BlackBerrys. Many of them have stuck with the phones because of the quality and efficiency of its e-mail system, but that’s now in question, she said.

On Tuesday, the company said the disruption was linked to a failure in its message routing infrastructure that it was addressing. “The messaging and browsing delays … were caused by a core switch failure within RIM’s infrastructure,” it said. “As a result, a large backlog of data was generated and we are now working to clear that backlog and restore normal service.”

USA Today notes that unlike other cellphone makers, RIM handles e-mail and messaging traffic to and from its phones. That allows it to provide services that other phones do not have, optimize data service, and provide top-class security. When it encounters a problem, however, a large share of the seventy million BlackBerry subscribers worldwide can be affected all at once. BlackBerry outages tend to occur several times a year, but they usually last for less than a day.

A couple of years ago, RIM was entangled in a bitter patent dispute with a Virginia-based company. When a judge threatened to issue an injunction ordering RIM to cease using its e-mail system until the issue was settled (it was eventually settled out of court), the Department of Homeland Security filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the judge not to issue such an injunction, arguing that it would threaten the national security of the United States. Many agencies and individuals involved in protecting and maintaining U.S. critical infrastructure use Blackberrys as their preferred means of communication, DHS argued, and to deprive them of the ability to communicate was too risky.

It is not clear whether, in light of this latest – and unusually prolonged – disruption, DHS would now consider switching to another communication system.